These laws are commonly referred as the right to information (RTI) or freedom of information (FOI). The international community recognizes citizens’ ability to access public information as a human right.
"And so the good news -- and we heard this in the summit -- is that more and more countries are recognizing that in the absence of good governance, in the absence of accountability and transparency, that’s not only going to have an effect domestically on the legitimacy of a government, it’s going to have an effect on economic development and growth. Because ultimately, in an information age, open societies have the capacity to innovate and educate and move faster and be part of the global marketplace more than closed societies do over the long term. I believe that."
-Barack Obama, President of the United States, speaking August 6, 2014 at a Press Conference after U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit
//Rasna Warah, journalist and independent researcher, analyzes key themes and conclusions emerging from a July 2014 workshop on the role of ICTs in statebuilding and peacebuilding in Africa.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) and new media have often been viewed as a solution to Africa’s myriad problems, including poor governance, conflict and poverty. From the M-Pesa mobile banking system in Kenya to the aggressive adoption of e-governance in Rwanda, the role of ICTs in improving Africa’s economy and governance systems cannot be underestimated.
However, while innovations and the use of ICTs on the African continent are on the rise, they have not necessarily reduced the threat of conflict. Evidence of a direct correlation between increased ICT penetration and innovations and peace and stability on the continent is sketchy at best, and quite often anecdotal, based usually on the innovators’ own assessment of the technology and its impact. For example, the Ushahidi platform, which has been praised internationally for allowing conflict-prone countries to track sites of violence and conflict within a region, and which played an important role in identifying areas of conflict during Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence, has not helped the country to significantly reduce the prospect of future conflict. On the contrary, the country has witnessed increasing terrorism-related violence and insecurity in recent months. Such innovations point to the fact that innovative technology by itself cannot reduce conflict if the social, economic and political conditions in a country are not conducive to peace and stability. It also shows that when the “hardware,” such as the police force and security and intelligence services are substandard, no amount of technology can prevent the threat of violence, conflict or insecurity.
Good governance is critical for all countries around the world today. When it doesn’t exist, many governments fail to deliver public services effectively; health and education services are often substandard; corruption persists in rich and poor countries alike, choking opportunity and growth. It will be difficult to reduce extreme poverty — let alone end it — without addressing the importance of good governance.
A recent episode reminded us of why we began this series of posts, of which is this is the last. We recently saw our guiding scenario for this series play out: a donor was funding a pilot project accompanied by a rigorous evaluation, which was intended to inform further funding decisions.
In this specific episode, a group of donors discussed an on-going pilot programme in Country X, part of which was evaluated using a randomized-control trial. The full results and analyses were not yet in; the preliminary results, marginally significant, suggested that there ought to be a larger pilot taking into account lessons learnt.
Along with X’s government, the donors decided to scale-up. The donors secured a significant funding contribution from the Government of X — before the evaluation yielded results. Indeed, securing government funding for the scale-up and a few innovations in the operational model had already given this project a sort-of superstar status, in the eyes of both the donor as well as the government. It appeared the donors in question had committed to the government that the pilot would be scaled-up before the results were in. Moreover, a little inquiry revealed that the donors did not have clear benchmarks or decision-criteria going into the pilot about key impacts and magnitudes — that is, the types of evidence and results — that would inform whether to take the project forward.
There was evidence (at least it was on the way) and there was a decision but it is not clear how they were linked or how one informed the other.
Postcards from the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia
From April 5th to 11th, in Medellin, the World Urban Forum (WUF) brought together a diverse group of urban thinkers and doers to discuss the world’s most urgent urban challenges. With participants meeting under the theme of “Urban Equity in Development – Cities for Life,” the overall atmosphere was one of cautious optimism. On the one hand, participants were highly aware of the vast challenges facing cities and their inhabitants. Cities remain home to shocking levels of inequality and highly pernicious forms of social and economic exclusion. In that respect, hosting the Forum in Medellin helped drive the point home—as UN-Habitat Executive Director Jon Clos observed before the event, “We want a realistic world urban forum, we want a forum in a real city that has real issues.” On the other, attendees were buoyed by the conviction that today’s rapid urbanization represents an unprecedented demographic and economic opportunity. Medellin itself has made astounding progress in recent years, focusing on improving transport and mobility, inclusive governance, and education.
After a slightly disappointing ‘wonkwar’ on migration, let’s try a less adversarial format for another big development issue: Transparency and Accountability. I have an instinctive suspicion of anything that sounds like a magic bullet, a cost-free solution, or motherhood and apple pie in general. So the current surge in interest on open data and transparency has me grumbling and sniffing the air. Are politicians just grabbing it as a cheap announcement in austere times? Does it contain some kind of implicit right wing assumptions (an individualist homo economicus maximising market efficiency through open data)? And is there any evidence that transparency actually has much impact on the lives of poor people (after all, the proponents of transparency and results-based agendas are often the same organizations, so I hope they are practicing what they preach….)
I put these fears to three transparency gurus, and here are their fascinating responses, striking in their quality and level of, well, openness. It’s a long read, but I hope you’ll agree, a worthwhile one. Think we’ll just stick with comments on this one – doesn’t feel like a vote would be useful (but let me know if you think otherwise)
Seeking accountability from public service providers remains one of the most prominent governance challenges in developing countries. In recent years, there has been a burst of social accountability tools, and NGOs and governments have promoted their use widely. Broadly, social accountability refers to approaches that seek to foster accountability through enhanced civil society engagement.
The advocates of social accountability approaches believe that the regular cycle of elections—in spite of the near continuous cycle of elections for the village councils, state and centre—are not enough to bring about a substantive change in service delivery. In this context, there is the opportunity to experiment with alternative mechanisms of fostering social accountability. Researchers at the Centre for Future State of the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, UK, conclude from their field studies in Delhi and Sao Paulo, Brazil, that social accountability tools can be used to set the minimum required standard of public services by “highlighting deficiencies in existing provision or entitlements”. This also works when citizens’ demands are “framed in terms of legal or moral rights”.
As a set of approaches for “good governance”, social accountability tools represent an interesting collection of hypotheses. One, that involving citizens in local planning, budgeting and spending decisions will ensure that the design and implementation of public services is pro-poor. Local governments and decentralized systems for local planning and service delivery are the usual form in which this approach manifests itself.
In our last post, we discussed how establishing “relevant reasons” for decision-making ex ante may enhance the legitimacy and fairness of deliberations on resource allocation. We also highlight that setting relevant decision-making criteria can inform evaluation design by highlighting what evidence needs to be collected.
We specifically focus on the scenario of an agency deciding whether to sustain, scale or shut down a given programme after piloting it with an accompanying evaluation — commissioned explicitly to inform that decision. Our key foci are both how to make evidence useful to informing decisions and how, recognizing that evidence plays a minor role in decision-making, to ensure decision-making is done fairly.
For such assurance, we primarily rely on Daniels’ framework for promoting “accountability for reasonableness” (A4R) among decision-makers. If the four included criteria are met, Daniels argues, it will bring legitimacy to deliberations and, he further argues, consequent fairness to the decision.
In this post, we continue with the second criterion to ensure A4R: the publicity of decisions taken drawing on the first criterion, relevant reasons. We consider why transparency – that is, making decision criteria public – enhances the fairness and coherence of those decisions. We also consider what ‘going public’ means for learning.
The answer from a case study in western Nepal says the answer could be one of the social accountability tools - Community Score Card (CSC).
The case study, produced by the World Bank-funded Program for Accountability in Nepal (PRAN), gives an overview of how the tool was used to counter mismanagement, irregularity of staff as well as quality of 21 community schools in Nawalparasi district in Nepal.
Community Score Card
CSC is a mechanism through which citizens monitor the quality of community based public services. It provides the opportunity for citizens to analyse any particular service they have received based on their personal feelings, to express dissatisfaction or to provide encouragement for good work. It also further suggests measures to be taken if flaws still remain.
Ritu, who had to interrupt her post-school education because of her marriage, now hopes for a good education for her daughters. She voiced her heartfelt opinion during the scoring, commenting on the weak ability of the school administration to control and discipline the teachers. Consequently, she was elected into the School Monitoring Committee to supervise the improvements. She is confident that the community, having had a taste of the Score Card, will maintain it, especially now that it does not entail any community expense.